Op-Ed: Gov. Pete Ricketts: Trump is helping the states to govern

Source: By Pete Ricketts, Washington Examiner • Posted: Tuesday, September 12, 2017

There’s something remarkable happening in Washington, D.C. right now. For the last eight years, federal bureaucrats have taken a dismissive attitude towards input from states across the nation. Today, the voices of states are being heard thanks to the new administration.

This cultural change isn’t happening by accident. It’s being led from the top, starting with President Trump and his Cabinet.

Here’s why this change is so welcome and important. In 2015, following the Paris terror attacks, the Obama administration convened a conference call with governors from across the nation to brief them on the refugee vetting process. On the call, bipartisan voices expressed the importance of taking steps to reassure the public. Our concerns were treated dismissively.

This dismissive attitude has permeated Washington for years. But the posture of our capitol city towards the states has begun to change thanks to the governing philosophy of the new administration.

I had high hopes for President Trump’s ability to listen to the states from the beginning. Coming from the business world, he had built a reputation for results. He and I first met when he visited Nebraska last year. During our first meeting, I expressed to him the importance of trade to Nebraska. Our state’s top industry, agriculture, depends on exports to Canada, Mexico, Japan, and China. Candidate Trump listened, and during the rally in Omaha he committed to reopening the Chinese market to American beef.

At the time, media framed this promise as an inconsistency in the President’s message on trade, which had struck a protectionist tone. Trump, however, defied their expectations. After taking office a president, he really did make reopening the Chinese market a top priority. Just recently, Nebraska’s agricultural director joined U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in Beijing to celebrate the first American beef arriving in China — shipped from Nebraska!

The change in tone hasn’t come just from the president himself. His team has also taken a more customer-friendly approach when dealing with states. While the Obama Administration seldom reached out to understand state perspectives, the Trump Administration is doing so in a bipartisan manner. Since taking office, I’ve visited with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and his team, giving them our state’s perspective on Medicaid policy. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and I have discussed regulatory issues and ethanol. And in June, I joined the President and a bipartisan roundtable of governors at the White House to discuss energy policy.

In our state, there has been a night and day difference working with the Trump Administration’s EPA. Nebraska is now treated more as a partner rather than as a nuisance. Recently, we appealed to the EPA Administrator to honor RFS levels outlined in statute — something the previous administration had repeatedly ignored. The EPA listened, and issued a proposal that meets the required volume levels.

Not only is the EPA now listening, but their actions are devolving power back to the states. Their rollback of the Waters of the United States rule and the Clean Power Plan allows states to tailor solutions that work best for our unique circumstances. Given flexibility, states will fashion creative solutions the federal government doesn’t have the imagination to create or the nimbleness to execute.

While Beltway insiders will try to score the administration on the success or failure of their legislative agenda, it is only part of the story.

For the states, President Trump’s opening act has been a resounding success. The devolution of power from Washington to the state level acknowledges the diversity of our country. At the end of the day, policy and regulation does not get applied in a generic place called the United States. It is implemented locally in a diverse array of states led by a diverse set of Governors. We Governors know the needs of our constituencies better than distant bureaucrats.

And it’s only just begun. Driving this cultural change will take time and continued leadership from President Trump. Washington will resist change, but the President has demonstrated a unique ability to drive messages with his supporters, in the media, and throughout organizations. With continued focus, states will reap the fruits of this new, collaborative approach to policymaking and leadership as the President’s first term progresses.

Pete Ricketts, a Republican, is governor of Nebraska.